Sunday, September 22, 2013

About “The Wizard of Oz”


I’d seen the 1939 classic movie “The Wizard Of Oz” many times, but in a sense I’d never really before seen it. I hadn’t seen it before on an actual movie screen. I especially had never seen it in Imax 3-D, which makes the film more amazing.

The added trick or dimension to the movie enhances its magic; its dream qualities. A gimmick, sure, but in this instance a gimmick which supplements the nature of the film, which is not fantasy so much as pure dream.

The 3-D is most impressive when the swept-away house lands—right before the switch from sepia-toned Kansas to Technicolor and Oz. This is the culmination of a very intense sequence filled with a tornado, tumult and noise. Then suddenly, all is silence. Quite a pause before Dorothy opens the door onto a new world. Seeing this scene on a large Imax screen emphasizes its effectiveness. Needless to say, the movie is masterfully made.

I noted the 3-D again most during the scenes with the Wicked Witch of the West. Margaret Hamilton’s terrific performance and green make-up become more striking, as the witch seems to stand apart from the rest of the scenery—if not jump out at us. Her over-the-top performance enhances the 3-D technical wizardry.

It’s a children’s movie, without question, but with impact on the rest of us, because most of us have watched it as children. I was struck throughout by how excellent the production is, everything about it—then wondered if my opinion was because of the cultural resonance the movie holds. Much of the movie, if not all of it, is part of the language of common culture—ruby slippers, yellow brick road, Kansas quips, the man behind the curtain, and not least the steadfast dog Toto, the most famous movie dog of them all.  Watching the film again for me was an emotional experience.

“The Wizard of Oz” is a simple film. The greatest art is often the most simple. Basic, primal, striking chords not of the intellect, but something deeper within us. “Wizard of Oz” does this as well as any movie ever. It’s a dream, and as a dream plunges deep into the subconscious, so that we ask ourselves afterward what’s really going on.


“The Wizard of Oz is a movie about fears and anxieties. They’re the anxieties of childhood, but remain with us on some level for all of our lives. The anxiety of losing a loved one—or even a dog. The fear of abandonment and death. The perception of impersonal forces outside our control, such as “the law” or the power of wealth, as hinted at near the beginning when Miss Gulch tries to take Toto away. (“Run, Toto. Run!”) The anxieties are stepped up in the Oz sequences.

There’s the anxiety of change. The notion of leaving the farm for the big city—metaphor for the excitement and fear of adulthood, of going out into the world to encounter new friends and adventures. There’s evident also, as part of this, American fears. Of being corrupted, becoming no longer so simple. Oz could be a metaphor for New York City but maybe also for Europe—seat at the time the movie was made of sophistication, civilization, and culture. The Munchkins are dressed like good European burghers. The Oz residents sound European. The movie mocks the pretensions of civilization, from decrees and death certificates (“most sincerely dead”) to war medals and university diplomas. That near the end the Wizard says “E Pluribus Unum” twice within a short time span shows his world—he’s a thoroughly and uniquely American character—stumbling toward an identity apart from yet part of the larger, more sophisticated world. In that sense, “Kansas” really means “America.” Oz is something foreign; more powerful but also more fearsome and corrupt.


There are other, deeper fears happening in the film, through the character of Dorothy, who we strongly identify with, in part because of the portrayal of Dorothy by Judy Garland, whose performance isn’t just terrific, it’s definitive. In the movie, unlike the book, Dorothy is clearly an adolescent, leaving childhood behind her. Anxieties about the changes taking place within her permeate the Oz dream sequence. The symbolism of the ruby slippers then becomes palpable. No doubt the producers, when making the slippers red instead of silver, did this because red would look better in Technicolor. Yet much of the film seems to be crafted from their subconscious—from everyone’s subconscious—as if something deep within them, within all of us, was the true creator of the artwork.

Red stands for puberty and sexuality. It’s what Dorothy and the witch fight over. The tension between Dorothy and the witch/Miss Gulch is sexual. Miss Gulch’s hostility toward Dorothy is animated by sexual jealousy. Dorothy is becoming an attractive, healthy young woman—bursting with health, goodness, and energy; the qualities Miss Gulch, without knowing why, detests. This is pseudo-psychology, I know, but it’s also obvious. Amazingly enough, the witch, in her green make-up, has an evil, gothic appeal—picked up  by the creator and fans of the book/musical “Wicked,” for instance. Margaret Hamilton must have found the costume liberating. What makes the character impressive and scary is that the pretences of civilization—which a Miss Gulch must adhere to—are gone. We see full-bore the inner person, which an adolescent dream would bring out.

The characters of the three friends take on larger meaning from this viewpoint. I was struck, while watching them, that the movie gives us how women view men. As bumbling, incomplete, but ultimately necessary (especially in the battle with her primal rival!) and liable, with some prodding, to perform great heroics, as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion demonstrate in their rescue of Dorothy.

In her dream Dorothy is assessing the available possible suitors—alas, confined to the three farmhands! Her dream sees each one as flawed and incomplete—as the three low-rent farm hands, poor straggling victims of the depression, indubitably are. Yet she also sees their strengths, and at least in her dream, seems to make a tentative choice between them.

The final credits give the Kansas names of the performers, stressing that Kansas is the real world. The rest, the glorious Technicolor paradise/nightmare, was dream only. Ray Bolger, for example, is listed as Hunk, and not the Scarecrow. There’s one exception to this in the cast list. Can you recall who that is? It’s key to unlocking the rest of the mystery of the film story.

All the other major characters in the Oz story have analogs back in Kansas. The Wizard is Professor Marvel. The two witches: Miss Gulch. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are the farm hands. Toto is Toto. But what about Glinda the Good Witch? That mysterious force which Dorothy mentions IN THE DREAM as watching over her? What’s her analog?

Glinda could only be Dorothy Gale’s mother—the memory of her mother, all-good and benevolently beautiful, as Dorothy is becoming beautiful, like her. That the absent mother is present throughout the dream story is what gives the movie, for all of us, the strongest resonance. We know this, subconsciously. We’ve always known who Glinda is in the film (the books are something other), which is the real reason why people love the movie so much.

1 comment:

  1. Check out John Carter of Mars from Disney and the history of its making and how the fat cat psyops at the Mickey D's tried to destroy it even after the fact.
    For one thing I noticed in the credits THE Colin Wilson helped produce it!

    Scaramouche was great pop lit and superior liberating read, btw!